As our movement grows in terms of involvement of people as well as increase in the number of organisations, we face new challenges and changes in the older ones. If we are to survive and progress as a movement we have to face up to these and modify our strategies accordingly, failing which we shall be consigned to the dustbins of history. We as a movement have always risen up to these and I am sure that we will too in the future. But, what we have to remember is that we should have a very clear strategy and plan to face these and get over them.
As technologies grow, the purveyors of superstitions resort to new techniques and cook up better ways of fooling the gullible, whether it be drinking cow’s urine, extolling the benefits of the purdah or curing urine disease by praying to Jesus! All religions are a part of this. Atheistic religions like Jainism and Buddhism have also become as superstitious as the others by bringing in new rituals. So, we have to work harder to face these. The new techniques and language they adopt, the newer trends are also tending to call themselves as secular without any religious leanings. They also use words like ‘spiritual’, ‘universal‘ etc to confuse the people by claiming to have no religious affiliations! Superstitions like gemology, aroma therapy, homeopathy come all under these categories. Another problem that we are facing today is that of age. When we look at ourselves we feel that we are a greying lot! The younger generations seem to be too busy and preoccupied with their own careers and acquisition of material wealth to bother about furthering the movement. Many of them claim to be atheists but also add a disclaimer- they are no crusading atheists like us! They would like to keep their convictions to themselves and not proclaim them to the world. They also don’t mind making compromises by taking part in religious ceremonies and such superstitious practices under the pretext of culture and/or that there is no harm in undergoing something once in a while.
Again there is a lacuna in the leadership- none seem to be coming forward to take up these challenges. I am told by many of the younger generation that they would like to support the movement by helping those who want to take it ahead. They don’t say anything about themselves taking it forward. They would like to hand over a bell to some one who is willing to bell the cat! They would not like to do it themselves. One more problem is that of state sponsorship- like state-sponsored terrorism there is the problem of state-sponsoring superstitions. Many of the state and central governments are providing grants to organisations which openly support such superstitions. The persons running these are so close to the seats of power that even the govt. departments which have to regulate them have no say in the utilization of grants or the type of propaganda done by them. We have some of them openly making statements against known proven therapies, misleading people. To add to these confusions we have professional bodies endorsing things without any proof.
We have problems in propagating our views because many times it is a catch-22 situation. If we call ourselves atheists which we all are, many people would not like to listen to us at all! They shut off their minds the moment they hear the word. So, we have to call ourselves some harmless-sounding names so that people would at least listen to us. We have had our own people objecting to this saying that we should call ourselves as atheists. While we have to attract new people to our movement we cannot do it unless we go to those who are not associated with us. This would not be possible unless we have issues that can be taken to people who are with an open mind and willing to listen to us. this would be also applicable to reaching out to the younger generation. Those promoting irrationalism are trying to ‘catch them young’, while we are ‘preaching to the converted’ .
One more problem of our movement is that of finance. We work on shoe-string budgets many a time putting our own slender resources towards meeting expenses. While the other side has many supporters with open purses or make their resources by taking the gullible for a ride, most of the movements are supported by money from outside India starting from the Hindutva to propagating Islam and Christianity. It seems strange that Hindutva should be supported from outside the country, but it is! The promotion of superstition has now become a huge empire covering many aspects including subjects like education and even research. One can imagine the quality of research when it is supported by agencies who have vested interests in promoting various non-scientific and pseudo-scientific subjects as science. Though it looks strange that those who claim to cure diseases by their supernatural powers should run hospitals, they do. The credit for the cure goes to the person who runs the institution and not to medical science. It would be claimed that the main instrument of cure is the blessing and science has a only supportive role, while we know the reality. These are also supported by large photos of the purveyors of superstitions all over the place. The personnel in charge of the treatment also give such impressions by always invoking the names of the person running the institution. People in a bad state of health are particularly impressionable and go away with the idea that the cure was because of the ‘spirituality’ and not the results of science.
‘How should we combat this?’ seems to be the million dollar question. We have been doing it so far by the following methodologies:
- Conducting lecture demos about so-called miracles.
- Challenging those who claim supernatural powers.
- Going to the media with exposures, etc.
But, these do not seem to be enough. So, it is up to us to take aggressive measures to further our movement. People like Ravishankar with his so called Art Of Living employs MBAs paying them thousands. People like Ram Kishan Yadav aka Baba Ramdev gets millions from govt. funds for conducting ‘research’ on yoga and so-called Ayurvedic medicine without having the qualification to be even a compounder. Numerous such examples could be quoted. We too should take up aggressive measures to combat such pseudosciences. We should develop a cadre of committed people with adequate training in science to question these claims. We should develop a corpus of funds which could be used to tackle them. We should conduct training camps for youngsters who want to work for the movement and should be in a position to provide them with support both in terms of finance and ideology. We should also develop institutions which can conduct research and also educate the younger generation. We should also motive the younger generation to come out and express their views openly and not be ashamed to admit that they are non-believers. While the believers express their faith openly, the non-believers do not have the courage to do so. We should also encourage many of the well-known people in other fields who share our ideology to come out into the open and express their views openlyso that the younger generation can know that they are not the only ones.
Only by taking up such a systematic approach can one hope to build up a strong movement to take on anyone and expose them. It is by such means that we can further our at-present not well-organised cause.
p style=”text-align: center;”>Prof. Narendra Nayak is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations